When I was a kid, we spent Sunday dinners at my Aunt Sis’ house with a dozen cousins, another dozen aunts, uncles, the tenant farmer, his wife and their kids. I always sat at the kitchen table, with the other younger ones, never at the dining room table with the adults.
There was fried chicken, creamed peas, mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, gravy, sometimes ham, corn pudding, green beans with ham hocks. The list seemed never-ending. Because Uncle Bill and Aunt Sis had milk cows, everything was made with cream and freshly churned butter.
Aunt Sis and Uncle Bill never had children, exactly. She was 20 when my dad was born and helped raise him, but that was the closest they came. I like to think she surrounded herself with family every Sunday to fill a void. With 25 to 30 folks at dinner every Sunday, it certainly filled something.
Everybody, including the men, helped in one way or another, at least until dinner was over. Then the adults disappeared throughout the house battling for couches on which to nap. Because I was the youngest of the girl cousins, I seemed to get the dishwashing detail most often than not. My older cousins dried and put away the many dishes and pots and pans.
And it seemed that every Sunday, as grease floated on the top of the dishwater, which had cooled down considerably, Aunt Sis would show up with a crystal glass found somewhere outside of a table. “I just found this,” she would announce. I would drain the water, clean down the sink, run new water with soap and wash the crystal glass.
She loved to cook and did it so well. One summer, my dad dropped me at Aunt Sis’ house for the day while he went to work. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend a day with her. This particular day was my mother’s birthday and Aunt Sis helped me – I was maybe 10 – make my mother a two-layer chocolate birthday cake with butter cream icing. Daddy picked me up at the end of the day and we drove home, farther out in the county, and surprised my mother with the cake.
I loved being at Aunt Sis’ house, out in the country, two-story white farmhouse with seemingly bunches of secret little rooms and passages. There was a huge barn out back with cows and pigs and sheep. They had a big garden, so most of those vegetables had been raised and “put up” by Aunt Sis.
Aunt Sis had cherry trees that lined the side of the front yard and the cherry blossoms in springtime were beautiful and so fragrant. I was honored to get to fill the hummingbird feeder on each tree, knowing that would help pollinate the trees so they would produce the bright red, bitter fruit that would become jellies and jams.
There was a crab apple tree outside the kitchen door and my mother and I would pick crab apples and make crab apple butter to slather on our toast in the wintertime. To this day, I love apple butter.